Wellington: Martin Guptill has just finished smashing the living daylights of the West Indies bowlers. Kids, both girls and boys, congregate in the outer periphery of the arena and play some serious cricket. Proper over-arm action and lot of whacks and thwacks from the batsmen. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
Napier: A dull game between Pakistan and UAE is on and the kids empty out to indulge in some cricket of their own. The same story was seen everywhere. Blond hair, freckled faces and this utter delight on their faces as they smash the ball or when the ball hits the wheelie bin which acts as the stumps. Even if they don’t win the World Cup, the tournament could do to this country what the 1983 triumph did to a generation in India. It could kick up a storm of new fans for cricket in this small country.
What about the adults, though? Their focus is all on Tuesday’s semi-final against South Africa. A writer Andrew Mormont put it best yesterday when he wrote: “Giddy, excited, optimistic, guarded. Can you be all four?” In a lovely curtain-raiser for The Indian Express, a New Zealand fan Andrew Dunford used a quote from a fictional character to make his point. “It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” Brian Stimpson, Clockwise (1986). It’s perhaps true of his generation but even there I suspect the mood is changing.
There seems to be two types of adults who watch sport in this country. A gung-ho lot usually follow Rugby while the cricket fans like their team being the understated underdogs.
The Rugby lot can be boisterous even while betting at a Tab shop. They expect their team to win every game. The cricket adults can be identified easily: a shy sort of a smile as they push the money across the counter to place their bets. “Think they will win this, they should win this one, right?”
Even here, the trend has been changing through the last month. From Christchurch and Nelson last month to Auckland now, as we move from South to North to the bigger cities, the boisterousness is increasing among the cricket fans. The best expression of this confidence came in a cry of “Wow” from the legend Martin Crowe when he came on the field in Auckland to accept his Hall of Fame induction. “Wow,” he went and clarified it was for the aggressive brand of cricket New Zealand have played thus far. And how the crowd roared.
It’s clear that this nation is intoxicated with the way the Black Caps have played their cricket. Never before have a team of eleven players walked around the park as if they own it.
No, not even Crowe’s 92. They were the surprise lot, the ones moulded by Crowe and the ones who played out of their skins and extended themselves. This current lot are just being themselves and this kind of brash confidence hasn’t been witnessed by the people. Rugby yes, cricket no.
And so, there is this confidence about their team. Since it’s South Africa who have owned the chokers tag in the past, people here seem to believe that New Zealand can get through to the final. It remains to be seen how that plays out. The betting men rate South Africa the favourites: The TAB has put the Saffers at $1.80, with New Zealand paying $1.95.
The future is bright
However, whatever happens on Tuesday and even if gloom sets in ‘the here and the now’, the future does look rosy. Everywhere we went, even in Nelson with a 35,000 population, seeing kids playing cricket has been a common sight. The kiwi kids are being fed on the attractively aggressive style of Brendon McCullum and Co. and they are aping it out there.
So, surprise was in store on Sunday upon reading this fascinating news piece on kids and cricket in this country on the stuff.co.nz.
“The number of secondary school-aged children playing cricket has dropped from 17,794 in 2000 to 9,937 last year.” But, based on what’s been seen so far during this last month, that number is likely to see a spike. And that, more than anything else, will be the greatest gain from New Zealand’s thrilling World Cup campaign.